My Top 5 Tried and True Horror Tropes for Young Adult Novels

Mar 12, 2015 | Novels

Micol OstowThere’s a reason that tropes become tropes, isn’t there? But there’s also a fine line between a “trope” or homage, and a cliché. In our Books with Bite workshop, Nova and I will help you utilize the timeless, effective tropes readers will recognize (because recognition = bringing your reader one step closer to that automatic, visceral reaction that we’re all hoping to elicit with our work) – while still adding your own indelible twist to your writing.

As for my own favorite horror tropes? That’s easy!

1. Obviously number one would have to be the haunted house trope. The Haunting of Hill House, The House on Haunted Hill, The Amityville Horror…a haunted house is a classic for a reason. Residual psychic energy? Unexplained phenomena? It just works.

2. Second runner up for me would be the asylum trope. An abandoned mental hospital with crazy residual psychic energy? Or better yet, an unreliable narrator? Shutter Island, anyone? Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us is a great spin on the “institutional horror” genre.

3. Ooh, ooh, ooh: creepy circus/carnival! Cirque du Freak, Freaks, The Lost Boys. What is it about carnivals that’s so inherently disturbing? Maybe it’s the sense that at any given time, something innocent and childlike will devolve into something broken-down and sinister. A carousel with a few paint chips and a squeaky gear…pure terror. See also Joe Hill’s brilliant short story “Twittering From the Circus of the Dead.”

4. Possessed dolls! I’m sure I’m not the only one who was convinced that my dolls came alive every time I turned my back. Add in a dash of evil and you’ve got Chucky. Or Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders.

5. Zombies, zombies, zombies. They’ve never hit the critical mass of, say, vampires or even werewolves (decaying flesh is not exactly sexy), but there’s a reason they’re perennial. From Night of the Living Dead to 28 Days Later to World War Z (read the book for a stunningly synthesized, sincere spin on the zombie apocalypse), the idea of coming back…not quite…right? Eek! Other top literary zombie picks: Courtney Sumner’s This is Not A Test and Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies. Both have just enough humanity to make the monsters that much spookier.

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

Learn More About the Author

Our Mission in Action

Share Your Story, Inspire a Child
Equity & Inclusion in Kidlit
Partners & Sponsors

The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.  Learn more about our impact.